Quite often I pass by the road signs on the Fakenham Road in Norfolk that tell me where the villages of Lyng and Elsing are. Each time I do so the name ‘Fustyweed’ comes to mind – a name that had been curious to me in the past – but no longer; but it still does tempt me to delve into the realms of ‘fantasy’ from time to time!
For those who do not know, ‘Fustyweed’ is real, both as a word with a pedigree, and also the name of an actual hamlet that sits comfortably between the neighbouring villages of Lyng and Elsing; all blessed for being on a sheltered side of the valley, and with open meadows. This hamlet itself consists of a collection of five older, artisan sized, houses, one of which is a treehouse!
It seems that Fustyweed has always been a hamlet, remaining so because it never grew to warrant a church or a working mill as did its neighbours. So, there must have been another reason for it being where it is; and why was it so named? Was it simply that in the very distant past, not only did crops grow thereabouts, but also some unpleasant smelling plant – possibly offering medicinal benefits to the community? The reason I suggest this is the possible origin of the word itself, which may offer a clue.
Here, I had to go back to an 1822 publication by Robert Nares (1753 – 1829), titled ‘Nares’ Glossary’; this book was described in 1859, by Halliwell and Wright, as indispensable to readers of Elizabethan Literature. Within it I found the following information:
“Fusty” – Musty or mouldy:
Hector shall have a great catch if he knock out either out your brains: ‘a were as good crack a fusty nut with no kernal’. (Troilus and Cressida ii. 1.)
“Dirty, Musty, Ill Smelling”:
…. Where the dull tribunes,
That with the fusty plebeians [a commoner] hate thine honours,
Shall say, against their hearts, “We thank the gods
Our Rome hath such a soldier.” (Coriolanus. i. 9.)
Now, with the dry stuff out of the way – how about a little of that fantasy that I hinted to earlier. On that topic, I can do no better than recommend the following, by fellow blogger, Molly Potter in her November, 2009 blog, titled ‘Fustyweed’. Here it is:
A terrace of five small houses sits some distance back from the only road. Smoke from the five little chimneys zig zags into the sky. The doors and window frames are haphazardly painted orange, purple, red and green. The front gardens are brimming with stunningly beautiful flowers: mostly noddydil, fraf and craggleweed. Silver and gold fluttifol buzz around them collecting gliff to make their glittery crunnyplop (which is sold in jars from a table at the roadside).
All of the houses are kept perfectly maintained with the exception of number four. Minky Flupp who lives there says she spends far too much time granting wishes to bother with keeping her house shipshape. Her neighbours don’t mind, as long as she grants them a wish now and then.
Jiggy Paloozeville at number three keeps yickins. The yickins lay the most delicious eggs with a yoke so deeply purple few can resist. He willingly shares the produce with his neighbours and most mornings the fruity aroma of freshly poached yickin eggs wafts around the terrace.
People tend not to call round to number five because its resident: Professor Batty Baffookink conducts science experiments there. The one-time Minky knocked on the door, it was answered by a squealing green and brown slimey mass. It took Minky some time to recover even after she had learned that the sight was just Batty covered in Harpypoo Sulphate after a tuttyfragwill experiment had blown up. Even so, these days everyone prefers to wait for Batty to come to them.
The eldest Fustyweed occupant lives at number one. At four-hundred and forty-two, Neg Keg is filled with memories. So many, in fact, that he has to have them regularly removed by Chiffle Lacey-Trickle-Doot who conveniently lives next door. The removal process uses a bespoke machine that Chiffle invented. The machine has many cogs, several springs, a few sparking wires, two glass tubes and a large wooden memory vat. A wriggling hose-like attachment (tailored to Neg’s spikey head) sucks out twenty years’ worth of memories at a time. With the relief this provides, Neg can go back to filling his head up with new memories. These memories mostly come from his time on the wirrity field playing tuffball.”
Heading Image: The welcoming village (hamlet) sign. Credit Cameron Self, 2010.
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This is a fictional story set in Norwich, Norfolk during the early 19th century, but based on genuine news reports from the local newspapers of the day.
The year is 1814 and a young clerk to the insurance firm of The Norwich County and Municipal Insurance Company, which has offices overlooking the city’s Market Place, is making his way to work. His first name is Cloudesley, which is quite a popular name of the time. The job he has as clerk is a pretty good one, although not fabulously well paid to begin with but, yes, he is on his way.
Cloudesley has to tread carefully as he crosses the Market Place to avoid the blood and offal discarded by the butchers who are just setting up shop. There are also leather merchants, coffee dealers, beer sellers, vendors of hot potatoes, bread makers and bakers of the famous Norwich biscuit, which is probably filled with 50 per cent chalk; he needs to watch that he is not hit by the waste they throw from their stalls without looking! Everything is just left to drain away down to the bottom of the Square where a pack of dogs lap up up the disgusting-looking mess.
There is a wretched man in a pen – he is shirtless and has a scatted back; several people are laughing, throwing rotten vegetables at him. He has obviously been there all night, having been flogged for drunkenness or maybe lewd behaviour. Being a kind sort of a chap, Cloudesley passes his flask of week beer through the bars to the man – cold water is far too dangerous to drink – and the pitiful prisoner grasps it thankfully, downing it in one.
It’s only ever men who you see being punished in the Market Place – most days there are at least one flogging and several left in cages like the chap this morning. This does not mean that women don’t swear or steal or get drunk – the courts are full of them as a matter of fact. No, it’s just that their punishment is always courtesy of the ducking stool at Fye Bridge, near Tombland.
The main thing, though, is the smell, and it is something our hero can never get over. He cannot understand why people let themselves smell so rank – Cloudesley insists on going to the public bathhouse once every few weeks, whether he feels dirty or not. He passes a group of well-dressed people, each of whom has an orange, pricked all over, in front of their noses to ward off the worst of it. Oranges are very expensive; one day, maybe, he will treat himself.
On the whole, the Market Place has happy memories for him. It is here that nine years before he had witnessed the wonderful news of Admiral Lord Nelson’s victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar. The news was conveyed to the city by coach which arrived, colours flying, to the cheers of the crowd. The Volunteer Corps paraded and the bells of St Peter Mancroft were rung throughout the day, although the news was cast in shadow by the death of the hero of the Nile and Trafalgar. A giant ox was roasted in the pub on the corner.
Truth be told, Cloudesley is just a little tired this morning. Last night he and a group of the clerks had gone to Mrs Peck’s Coffee and Ale House on Gentleman’s Walk. The poster had read:
“To be seen alive in a genteel room at Mrs Peck’s Coffee and Ale House, Market Place, Norwich, the largest Rattlesnake ever seen in England, 42 years old, near nine-foot-long, in full health and vigour. He is well secured so that Ladies and Gentlemen may view him without the least danger. He has not taken any sustenance for 11 months. Admittance, Ladies and Gentlemen 1s; working people and children 6d.”
It was a bit of a mystery why this particular creature was not eating – Norwich had many ‘exhibits’ and the usual thing was that people would be admitted at half-price if they brought something – a live mouse or rat, say – to feed the animal.
Afterwards, being in fine spirits, the party could not resist going just up the road to the White Hart, Rampant Horse Street, to see the famous ‘counting pig’. It might have been the beer, but it was amazing – customers were invited to hold up a number of fingers and lo! The fat old porker would scape a paw on the ground the right number of times! Cloudesley couldn’t help thinking that maybe, somewhere out of sight, was a man with a pointed stick, poking the poor thing……
So, what’s going on in ‘No Mean City’ as the people so proudly called it? How are things? – Well, there is a great nervousness about a probable French invasion, which could well happen via Weybourne. The greatest ever British General, Wellington, may have blunted Napoleon’s glories and sent him into exile, but there were almost weekly rumours of his escape. Besides, the French absolutely detested us, a feeling returned with vigour. The largest pub on Gentleman’s Walk, owned by Alderman Davey – he who has recently invented an iron coffin, said to be completely safe against body snatchers – has an effigy of a strutting Corsican being skewered on a giant fork by John Bull. The pub is very popular. From the coast to the top of Norwich Castle are a series of wooden beacons ready to be fired if the French are spotted; thus, Norwich would know within minutes if the dreaded enemy has landed.
Cloudesley always arrives early for work as he likes to take a look at the newspaper before the five fellow clerks with whom he shares an office arrive. He sits at his tall wooden stool and spreads the Norfolk Chronicle and Norwich Gazette out on his desk. Several items catch his eye. The population of Norfolk is returned as 274,221, of whom 130,249 were males and 143,972 females. However, as about 4,000 men are away in Wellington’s army, the sexes at slightly more equal than the figures suggest.
Cloudesley also reads that 247,000 quarts of soup are weekly being given to the poor, However, all is not doom and gloom as the Duke’s Palace Workhouse – down by the old Palace of the Duke of Norfolk, the one who lost his head planning to marry Mary, Queen of Scots – reports that the number of inmates has fallen from 1,027 to 425.
Wheat has risen from 146 shillings per quarter at the beginning of the month to 180 at the end. Various ruses are being tried to get people to eat less bread. ‘The officers of the West Norfolk Militia’, the paper states, ‘have entirely left off the use of bread at their mess, and have forbid the use of puddings and pies, except the crust is made of rice or potatoes, which they eat in a variety of shapes as a substitute for bread. Nurses are advised to use linseed meal and water instead of bread and milk in making poultices.’
Cloudesley is pleased to read that repairs to the disastrous fire in the roof of Norwich Cathedral, caused by careless workmen and estimated to be costing over £500, are almost complete. Oh, lucky man! The winner of the Irish Lottery, Mr Charles Weston, a banker living in Norwich, is richer to the tune of £15,000. Chapelfield, where he often eats his lunch, is berated by a leading architect as being ‘a very cockneyfied and badly laid-out public space’.
The man previously cleared by Magistrates for knocking down and stealing the wallet from the old soldier in Castle Ditches – who subsequently died – has had an attack of conscience and confessed, even though he knows he will be hanged!
Under a section called ‘Curious Notes’ he reads of a businessman, Ainsworth Crisp, who has a shop in London Street and lives upstairs. He has had a coffin made of solid English oak, with a silver plaque on the outside giving his name; only the exact date needs to be filled in. The coffin is kept in the corner of his bedroom and is used as a cupboard.
A lady in the letter’s column complains that Cromer is become far too expensive as regards lodging in the season, but is pleased that this will keep out the troublesome London Cockney. As regards Happisburgh, one reader agrees with Walter Rye who, in a famous account of 1885, scathingly said that no book was to be found there; everyone is in bed by nine; dullness reigns supreme; and William Cowper, the poet, went there but went mad and he does not wonder at it.
Much of the paper is filled with crime, which is rampant, there being no law enforcement officers employed by the authorities. It is true that Aldermen can appoint men with temporary powers to arrest and detain troublemakers but, being usually the chief troublemakers themselves, they were notoriously subject to bribes and worse.
Four men were hanged in Norwich – two for robbing the Rectory at North Walsham; one for stealing a cow and three heifers, and one for stealing six sheep. The hangings took place at the entrance to the castle in front of enthusiastic crowds. Food and drink was sold and there was much singing and general merriment until the arrival of the prisoners when ‘an awful silence fell’. The paper reports that one man, a well-known criminal, 34 years old and dressed in fine clothes, attracted considerable attention from several well-dressed ladies.
At Norwich Quarter Sessions, John William Smith was charged with stealing a spoon from the Waggon and Horses public house, the property of William Smith, and a coat, the property of Michael Callow, from the Crown Inn, St Stephens. He was sentenced to seven year’s transportation.
Politically, Cloudesley is neither committed to the Whigs nor the Tories. Sometimes, he goes along to the Norwich Revolution Society which meets at the Bell Hotel and which, despite its alarming name, seems more of a heavy drinking club than anything else. The alternative is the Norwich Patriotic Society, but that appears much the same. No, his future probably lay not in politics, but in insurance – he greatly admires Mr Thomas Bignold who started something called The Norwich Union Insurance Company a mere twenty years ago, at the age of 36, as he was unable to insure himself against highwaymen (who are a curse whenever a respectable person ventures outside the city walls). Norwich Union is fast becoming a great English commercial company.
Thomas Bignold is very much a hero of young people hereabouts and Cloudesley chuckles to himself as he reads of his latest exploit. The Chronicle relates that, not one to suffer fools gladly, he has refused insurance to a man he disliked who wanted cover against being bitten by a mad dog on the grounds that should the dog do this, it would assuredly be sane. There is much idle talk of his son, Samuel, taking over the company as his father is becoming increasingly erratic, but Cloudesley thinks the press would not like it as it would certainly have less to write about.
He is much taken with the report about the library which may open in the Guildhall building – the cost of membership as proposed is high, no doubt to detract ruffians, but the idea of being to borrow books is pretty exciting; he reads a letter in the Chronicle from a Parson who thinks that allowing the working man to gain knowledge will inevitably lead to them becoming discontented with their lot and end in disaster. Hmm….. it’s a thought!
Life expectancy in 1814 is about 40 years. Cloudesley will do better than this because he is temperate in his habits, takes a good wash every now and again and has a respectable career which will mean a reasonable house. He hopes to meet a local girl to settle down with and bearing this in mind will no doubt find himself at six this evening parading up and down Gentleman’s Walk, which is exactly what it say it is, and may fall into a coffee shop now and again to rest and set the world to rights – especially regarding that troublesome French so-call ‘Emperor’ – with his fellows. Life is good! He picks up an invoice from a pile in front of him, nods ‘Hi’ to Tim, a fellow clerk who is just coming in the door, and begins his day’s labours.
Written by Stephen Browning and extracted from his latest book “Norwich and Norfolk: Stone Age to the Great War”.
The Secret Garden is well hidden, and so is the commemorative stone which sits in a dark niche immediately to the left of the entrance gate to the garden.
The late photographer and historian of Norwich, George Plunkett, stated that: “This rather secluded corner adjacent to the Adam and Eve public house was the location of the Meeting House or Tabernacle.” It was a plain little red-brick building with pantiled roof and a double row of sash windows, opened by Mr Whitefield on 14 April 1753 and leased to John Wesley from 1758 to 1764 – see below. Stanley Wearing in ‘Georgian Norwich and its Builders’ considered the Meeting House to have been the first building in Norwich with which the locally famous architect Thomas Ivory was known to be connected.
The person behind the existence of the Meeting House had been a Calvinistic Methodist by the title and name of Reverend James Wheatley. He, prior to his moving permanently to Norwich in 1750, had been preaching in the city at various places including an older ‘Tabernacle’ set up in a house on Scoles Green in Nowich. Unfortunately, Wheatley’s ideas were not generally well received and frequent riotous scenes occurred, resulting in his molestation to such an extent that on more than one occasion ‘the poor creature was half dead, not able to walk alone, and in a most terrible condition’, to quote one eye-witness. It would appear that such scenes and experiences left him totally undeterred for eventually he was able to purchase the land, of which we speak, for the building of the Meeting House, together with an adjoining three-storeyed dwelling house.”
It was in much earlier days, on 23 December 1737 to be exact, that John Wesley (1703–1791) and the founder of Methodism, disapproved of Wheatley’s reputation. It was at the time when Wheatley had invited Wesley to preach at an earlier ‘Tabernacle’ – possibly the one at Scoles Green. According to Wesley: “James Wheatley now repeated his offer of the Tabernacle. But I was in no haste. I wanted to consult my friends, and consider the thing thoroughly.” Eventually, however, Wesley consented:
“I went up and preached to a large congregation without any let or hindrance.” On the Sunday, “the Tabernacle was thoroughly filled, and mostly with quiet hearers. I saw none who behaved amiss but two soldiers, who struck some that desired them to be silent. But they were seized and carried to the commanding officer, who ordered them to be soundly whipped.” The following day he preached, he thought, to good effect, “Stony hearts were broke; many mourners comforted; many believers strengthened. Prejudice vanished away; a few only kept their fierceness till the afternoon.”
But, Norwich was suspicious of Wesley and he, in turn, thought of the city: “her people seemed fickle, perverse, unstable as water”. Then, in 1758, five years after the Meeting House had been built and also the time when Wesley was leasing the Meeting House, he wrote, “It seems the time is come when our labour even in Norwich, will not be in vain”.
Fast forward again to George Plunkett who, apart from photographing the Meeting House in the 20th century, had also seen inside before the building which was to be demolished in 1953: “the Tabernacle was furnished with handsome mahogany seating and a beautiful pulpit”.
But it was back in 1775 that the building was sold to the Countess of Huntingdon; she set up a trust to appoint ministers “whose preaching and sentiments [were] according to the articles and homilies of the Church of England”. Disused by the 1930s, it was then acquired by the Eastern Gas Board, whose works adjoined to the north, and was pulled down early in 1953, the year of its bicentenary. Now, in its place, is Norwich’s ‘Secret Garden.
Charles Dickens, writing in April 1835, describes running into a fellow office clerk:
“He was a tall, thin, pale person, in a black coat. He had an umbrella in his hand – not for use, for the day was ﬁne – but, evidently, because he always carried one to the office in the morning.”
This particular story would not have been written without the help of a professional archivist, someone who proved instrumental in bringing together information about the somewhat obscure Corsbies’. Never heard of them? Well, that would not be at all surprising since theirs is not a house-hold name. In fact, they would have remained within the sphere obscurity had not this diligent archivist brought them back into the light. Up until that point, the name Corsbie lay hidden in time-worn files, scrap books, photograph albums – company magazines and board minutes; most detail having been kept for a very long time in dusty draws before digitisation came along. Theirs is a simple story which offers a glimpse into what office life of the past was like, particularly for the generations of Corsbies who all worked, at some point, as humble clerks before rising up their own particular career ladder. However, they did have one thing in common – apart from the surname; they all had the distinction of having worked for one of the most famous and greatest Insurance companies ever to have once existed – Norwich Union.
“In 1792, Thomas Bignold helped in the creation of ‘Norwich General Assurance Company’ and was appointed its secretary. He left there in 1797 to found the Norwich Union Fire Insurance Society with support from local shopkeepers and in 1808 he founded the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society. After 1815 the post war recession began to bite and claims against the Society increased; initially he resisted many of those claims – some legitimately but some not so. Eventually his sons collaborated with the other directors to force him to retire. In retirement he became increasing eccentric forming a business to make shoes with revolving heels: this venture pushed him into bankruptcy and he eventually into prison. He died in 1835. It was in 1821 when the companies founded by Thomas Bignold, and which had operated in competition, merged under the Norwich Union name.”
The Corsbie family were from Norwich and several generations of them worked for the Norwich Union for well over a century. Our archivist’s research discovered that the Corsbie family, from Joseph Clarke Corsbie downwards, amassed more than 370 years of combined service for the Company. Joseph himself joined the Norwich General Assurance Company in 1810. and when company moved to its Surrey Street office in Norwich, Joseph went went with it. He joined the rest of the office staff who would then work in Bignold House, the actual family home of Samuel Bignold, the then Secretary of the Company.
In November 1819 Samuel Bignold wrote a set of rules for his clerks which would have been in force when Joseph Corsbie arrived in Surrey Street. According to those rules, office hours were from 9 o’clock till half past one, and from half past two to 6pm. Staff who were late in the morning or after lunch were fined 2d for each 5 minutes they were late. Clerks were also fined for tending the office fire:
“The office fire to be attended to by Mr Driver, or the junior Clerk, and any Clerk who may assume his duty shall be fined 3d. Clerks are permitted to warm themselves at the Fire in Office hours, but only one at a time to be at the fire and no Clerk is expected to remain there longer than may be sufficient for Warming himself.”
Clearly Samuel suspected that without such a rule his clerks would spend too much time chatting while warming themselves at the fire. Despite these strict rules it seems that clerks at Norwich Union were generally content with their lot, and most spent their entire working lives with the company. When Samuel Bignold was knighted in 1854 he took the clerks from the Norwich Union Fire and Life Societies out for a meal to celebrate and at least half of the forty clerks who attended had reached more than 26 years’ service with one or other of the companies.
During following year of 1855, Joseph Corsbie presided over a meal of Norwich Union clerks to celebrate the Queen’s Birthday and by that date he was the oldest clerk in the establishment. Joseph spent 50 years working for Norwich General and Norwich Union and was granted his retirement by the Directors in January 1860, when he was awarded an annuity ‘in consideration of his long service’. He received £130 per annum, the equivalent of around £130,000 in today’s terms. According to the Board’s minutes, Joseph had not been fully able to attend to his duties for two years before he retired, and he died in September 1861 after a long and painful illness.
Joseph was not the only Corsbie to be working in Surrey Street in 1821. In June of that year his nephew, Dennis Tooke Corsbie, took a position with the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society. According to a staff list, Dennis retired in August 1874 as managing or chief clerk, having clocked up an impressive 53 years’ service with the Society. During his time with the Norwich Union he would have been involved in the take-over of the Amicable Society, the world’s oldest mutual life insurer, which happened in 1866. Dennis may also have been responsible for starting an Easter tradition which was carried on by his successor as chief clerk, George Holmes. According to the memoires of another staff member, Henry Butler, Mr Holmes would call all the staff together at noon on the Thursday before Good Friday and give them each a glass of sherry and brown and white biscuits known as ‘fair buttons’. At one o’clock the office would close and all the clerks would go to the fair at Tombland.
The next generation of Corsbies to join Norwich Union arrived in the 1850s. His name was Henry Webster Corsbie, son of Joseph; he joined the Fire Society in 1852 but left in 1865. Henry had been involved in a court case in 1857 after he was ‘struck’ in the face by a certain William Tuck who was angry that other Norwich Union clerks had cancelled the periodicals they usually purchased from him. During the case, Tuck claimed that the clerks, who followed the Conservative political views of Sir Samuel, had turned against him after he had voted for the Whigs in the local elections.
In 1853, Henry’s brother, Horace Webster Corsbie, joined the Life Society and went on to work for the Life Society for 38 years’, retiring 1891 and by which time he was earning £350 a year. Presenting him with an inscribed timepiece from the Directors, Mr Forrester said:
“…… throughout your forty years’ service you have born an unblemished character, distinguished by integrity of purpose, devotion to your duties, courtesy to the higher officials and kindness and sympathy toward the other members of staff”.
In his response Horace thanked the directors for the gift and the generous provision for his retirement and said he ‘could look back upon nothing but kindness during his long connection with the society, both from those now in office and those who have been long in their graves’.
The 1850s also saw Henry John Abs Corsbie and his brother Charles James Abs Corsbie, sons of Dennis Corsbie, join the Norwich Union Life Society in 1854 and 1856 respectively. There would have been five Corsbies in the employment of the two societies in May 1862 when each clerk was given £5 by the management to go and visit the Great Exhibition at Kensington which was also insured by the Fire Society.
In 1871 the names of the four Corsbies then working for the Life Society featured in an illustrated letter which was presented to Sir Samuel Bignold to mark his 80th birthday.
The names of Horace, Henry John, and Charles also appear on a list of staff who attended Sir Samuel’s funeral in January 1875. Samuel Bignold died in the Surrey Street office which was also his family home and, according to contemporary newspapers, on the morning of the funeral hundreds of people filled the pavements of Surrey Street wanting to pay their respects:
‘As the time announced for the starting of the procession arrived, the Market-Place and approaches to Surrey Street became almost impassable by reason of the thousands who had there congregated.’
Twenty-five carriages were included in the funeral procession which followed a route along Rampant Horse Street, the Market Place, London Street and Queen Street, through Tombland and along Magdalen Street to the family vault at Catton. All Norwich Union staff attended the funeral and they were allocated places in the carriages in order of seniority of service. Charles Corsbie should have been in coach three with his brother and cousin but instead watched proceedings from the window on the office stairs as he was too ill to attend. The staff list notes that he died the following month.
Charles Corsbie was only 34 when he died and had still spent nearly twenty years working for Norwich Union. As for his brother, Henry John Abs Corsbie, he was first appointed an inspector for the South Eastern Region in October 1884, at which point his salary was raised to £225 pa with 2nd class rail travel and an allowance of 12s 6d for each day he was away from Norwich. Henry is the first of the Corsbies to be clearly identified in a photograph (see below) which was taken in around 1900. Apparently, he was still working for Norwich Union when he died, aged 73, in 1909 and the notice of his funeral refers to ‘upwards of 55 years’ service’ with the Society.
The next generation of Corsbies to join Norwich Union were the grandsons of Joseph Corsbie. In total, five of his grandsons began work for the company between 1877 and 1889. The first was Arthur Benjamin Corsbie who joined the Policy Department of the Fire Society in May 1877 and died in service just over two years later. In January 1882, Horace Frank Corsbie, the eldest son of Horace Webster Corsbie, joined the Life Society on a princely salary of £20 per annum. His time with Norwich Union coincided with the introduction of a Thursday half-holiday for clerks and the arrival of the office telephone, but he left in December 1891, eventually working as a municipal clerk. Next to join was Horace Frank’s younger brother, Ernest Benjamin Corsbie, who joined the Policy Department of the Fire Society in April 1883. The notice of his death in the staff magazine records that he also worked for the Loss Department, Accounts Department and Secretarial Department before being appointed head of the Marine Department. He moved to London with the department and died in service there in July 1917. Ernest also contributed to the social life of the office, he was auditor for the staff football club and wrote articles for the staff magazine, which is probably why his photograph appears in the magazine’s photograph album.
Also joining in 1883 was their cousin Walter Lewis Corsbie, who’s application letter he sent asking to join the Fire Society still exists in the archive collection. He was 22 years of age when he applied and had already served out his apprenticeship with Dexter & Moll the ‘old established family linen warehouse’ based in Upper Market Norwich. By the time he applied to join Norwich Union Walter was working at Henry Snowdon’s Drapery in Bridge Street, Norwich and, according to his letter, was looking for employment with a shorter working day. As seems to have been standard in application letters to the Society, he made it clear that he was not looking for a particularly high salary.
By the time Walter joined, Norwich Union Fire had already established a compulsory staff Superannuation and Benefit Fund which had opened the previous year. Each member of staff contributed 2% of his salary to the scheme and in return received a guaranteed pension and guaranteed payments to his widow and children if he died in service. The fund also provided medical attendance for each member of staff. This benefited the company by helping reduce time off for sickness and benefited the members of staff who could have access to a doctor, which might otherwise have proved too expensive in a time when there was no National Health Service.
It also provided an unanticipated benefit for future archivists as detailed reports were made each year about which staff had been attended by the doctor and these were recorded in the fund minutes. The reports contain fascinating information about staff who were working for Norwich Union during this period and what illnesses or injuries led to them having time off work. According to the reports, Walter was attacked with influenza on 3rd Feb 1890 and suffered with severe inflammation of the lungs but recovered sufficiently to return to the office on 31 March. However, he had suffered from symptoms of heart disease for several years which became rapidly progressive after this and ‘he was obliged to give up work on June 25 and finally succumbed on 8 August.’
The last of the third generation of Corsbies to work for Norwich Union was Louis Frederick Corsbie, the brother of Ernest Benjamin and Horace Frank. He had initially ignored family tradition and taken a position in April 1886 with Norwich and London Accident Insurance Association, a company which was later absorbed by Norwich Union. He obviously saw the error of his ways and in July 1889 left Norwich and London Accident and started work for Norwich Union Fire. According to the staff magazine, he spent the first ten years of his service in the Fire Policy Department before moving to the Fire Loss Department where he remained until he retired in 1930. He was known as ‘Uncle Louis’ to many of his contemporaries and was described as ‘a man of equable and genial temperament and popular with his colleagues’. He was an enthusiastic bowls player, secretary and librarian of the orchestral society from 1896, and played second violin in the office orchestra. His name appears in many concert programmes for the orchestral society and he was photographed with the orchestra in around 1902.
Both Louis and Ernest were working for the Fire Society when it celebrated its centenary in 1897 and the staff received a 10% bonus, double that handed out a decade earlier to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. Ernest can be found in this staff photograph taken for the centenary but for some reason Louis is missing.
Both the names of Ernest and Louis Corsbie also appear in a booklet presented to George Oliver Clark on his retirement in 1905.
A fourth generation of Corsbies started at Norwich Union when Harold Gordon Corsbie joined the Life Society in March 1900. A great grandson of Joseph Corsbie he appears in this group photograph of Life Society staff, looking much younger than his 18 years.
Harold Gordon Corsbie can also be identified in two cartoons produced to mark the move of the Life Society into its new offices in Surrey House in 1904. Here he is moving with his typewriter across the road to his new abode.
Harold stayed with the company until at least 1914 and cashed in his company life policy in 1924 before emigrating with his family to Australia the following year.
Harold was still with Norwich Union when these decorations were put up in Surrey Street to mark the coronation of George V in June 1911. The banner spanned the street between the head offices of the two societies and Harold probably had to pass under it to get to work.
It is also likely that he is somewhere in this photograph of life office staff in the Marble Hall of Surrey House at around the same date.
By 1911 another Corsbie had joined the Fire Society across the road in Bignold House; her name was Elsie Gertrude Corsbie who joined the society in 1911 as a typist in the fledgling typing section. The Fire Society had first employed women in the Norwich head office in 1906 and the board minutes of 7th February that year record the decision to form a Typing Department:
“consisting of six lady typists with a member of the current staff to be appointed superintendent to act as an intermediary between the typists and the departments.”
The staff member chosen was Percy Noverre whose family had a long association with Norwich Union and who had come to insurance late in life having been a dancing master in Norwich (the family was well known in dancing and the Noverre ballroom in the Norwich Assembly Rooms was named after them). This photograph shows Percy and the lady staff, including Elsie, in around 1914.
According to the memoires of another long-serving member of staff, Geoff Hart, Percy Noverre’s role was to prevent fraternisation between the clerks and the lady typists.
Elsie was Joseph’s great granddaughter, the daughter of Ernest Corsbie, and she moved to London with her father and the rest of the Marine Department during the First World War. The war may well have been the reason Elsie never married. When war ended, she returned to Norwich to the Secretarial Department where she spent some time as personal secretary to Sir Robert Bignold, the 5th generation and last of the Bignolds to run Norwich Union. She remained with the department until 1948 when she retired after 37 years’ service. Elsie was the last Corsbie to work for Norwich Union and her retirement ended an unbroken 138 years of family service.
There was, however, another descendant of Joseph Corsbie who worked for Norwich Union. His name was Geoffrey William Cecil Corsbie who joined Norwich Union Fire in April 1935, and was the 5th generation of Corsbies to join the society – and the great-great grandson of Joseph Corsbie. Geoffrey worked in the Workmen’s Compensation Department and died in 1944 at the early age of 28. The notice of his death in the staff magazine indicates that he was never physically very fit and remembers his skill on the piano accordion and his ability to mend all things mechanical, especially watches and clocks.
Source: Gratitude and thanks to Anna Stone of Heritage.Aviva who made this blog possible. She contributed most of the information and supporting images contained herein; exceptions are annotated otherwise.
Some 500 years ago, Christmas was the time where communities outside of politics came together to celebrate; in the Tudor court, greater emphasis was placed on what we call today – networking! Generally, however, it was a time to be with the family, visit neighbours and entertain your tenants or social equals. It was also a time for fasting and on Christmas Eve you were not permitted to eat meat, cheese or eggs. On Christmas day, after three masses were said, the genealogy of Christ was sung and all present would hold lighted tapers before departing for home and enjoying “their first unrestricted meal since Advent Sunday, which was four weeks earlier”. It was also a time for rest when all work on the land stopped, with the only exception being to look after the animals. Spinning, the prime occupation for women at the time, was banned and ceremonial flowers were placed on the wheels to prevent their use. All Work recommenced on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night.
However, the root of this particular midwinter ritual go back long before the birth of Christ for midwinter had always been a time for merry making by the masses. We have to go back to the shortest day, which falls on 21st December. After this date the days lengthened and the return of spring, the season of life, was eagerly anticipated. It was therefore a time to celebrate both the end of the autumn sowing and the fact that the ‘life giving’ sun had not deserted them. Bonfires were lit to help strengthen the ‘Unconquered Sun’.
For Christians the world over this period celebrates the story of the birth of Jesus, in a manger, in Bethlehem. The scriptures however make no mention as to the time of year yet alone the actual date of the nativity. Even our current calendar which supposedly calculates the years from the birth of Christ, was drawn up in the sixth century by Dionysius, an ‘innumerate’ Italian monk to correspond with a Roman Festival.
Until the 4th century Christmas could be celebrated throughout Europe anywhere between early January through to late September. It was Pope Julius I who happened upon the bright idea of adopting 25th December as the actual date of the Nativity. The choice appears both logical and shrewd – blurring religion with existing feast days and celebrations. Any merrymaking could now be attributed to the birth of Christ rather than any ancient pagan ritual.
One such blurring may involve the Feast of Fools, presided over by the Lord of Misrule. The feast was an unruly event, involving much drinking, revelry and role reversal. The Lord of Misrule, normally a commoner with a reputation of knowing how to enjoy himself, was selected to direct the entertainment. The festival is thought to have originated from the benevolent Roman masters who allowed their servants to be the boss for a while.
The Church entered the act by allowing a choirboy, elected by his peers, to be a Bishop during the period starting with St Nicholas Day (6th December) until Holy Innocents Day (28th December). Within the period the chosen boy, symbolising the lowliest authority, would dress in full Bishop’s regalia and conduct the Church services. Many of the great cathedrals adopted this custom including York, Winchester, Salisbury Canterbury and Westminster. Henry VIII abolished Boy Bishops, however a few churches, including Hereford and Salisbury Cathedrals, continue the practice today.
The burning of the Yule Log is thought to derive from the midwinter ritual of the early Viking invaders, who built enormous bonfires to celebrate their festival of light. The word ‘Yule’ has existed in the English language for many centuries as an alternative term for Christmas. Traditionally, a large log would be selected in the forest on Christmas Eve, decorated with ribbons, dragged home and laid upon the hearth. After lighting it was kept burning throughout the twelve days of Christmas. It was considered lucky to keep some of the charred remains to kindle the log of the following year.
Whether the word carol comes from the Latin caraula or the French carole, its original meaning is the same – a dance with a song. The dance element appears to have disappeared over the centuries but the song was used to convey stories, normally that of the Nativity. The earliest recorded published collection of carols is in 1521, by Wynken de Worde which includes the Boars Head Carol.
Carols became very popular during Tudor time and were seen as a way of celebrating Christmas and spreading the word of the nativity. Winken de Worde’s ‘Christmasse Carolles’, published in 1521, is the earliest recorded published collection and includes the Boars Head Carol describing the ancient tradition of sacrificing a boar and presenting its head at a yuletide feast; the head being garnished with rosemary and bay before being presented to diners. However, celebrations came to an abrupt end in the seventeenth century when the Puritans banned all festivities including Christmas. Surprisingly carols remained virtually extinct until the Victorians reinstated the concept of an ‘Olde English Christmas’ which included traditional gems such as While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night and The Holly and the Ivy as well as introducing a plethora of new hits – Away in a Manger, O Little Town of Bethlehem – to mention but a few.
Twelve Days of Christmas:
The twelve days of Christmas themselves (25th December- 6th January) were all celebrated but not equally. The main three days of celebration being Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Epiphany or Twelfth Night. Nevertheless, these twelve days would have been a most welcome break for the workers on the land, which in Tudor times would have been the majority of the people. All work, except for looking after the animals, would stop, restarting again on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night. The ‘Twelfths’ had strict rules, one of which banned spinning, the prime occupation for women. Flowers were ceremonially placed upon and around the wheels to prevent their use. During the Twelve Days, people would visit their neighbours sharing and enjoying the traditional ‘minced pye’. The pyes would have included thirteen ingredients, representing Christ and his apostles, typically dried fruits, spices and of course a little chopped mutton – in remembrance of the shepherds.
Serious feasting would have been the reserve of royalty and the gentry. Turkey was first introduced into Britain in about 1523 with Henry VIII being one of the first people to eat it as part of the Christmas feast. The popularity of the bird grew quickly, and soon, each year, large flocks of turkeys could be seen walking to London from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire on foot; a journey which they may have started as early as August.
A Tudor Christmas Pie was indeed a sight to behold but not one to be enjoyed by a vegetarian. The contents of this dish consisted of a Turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a pigeon. All of this was put in a pastry case, called a coffin and was served surrounded by jointed hare, small game birds and wild fowl.
Wassailing: This popular Christmas tradition was practiced throughout all levels of society and derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Waes-hael’, meaning ‘be whole’ or ‘be of good health’. Essentially it involved a wassail bowl and a communal drink.
Although most of the descriptions of how wassail was performed date from post Tudor times, there is one surviving description from the reign of Henry VII. It paints a very formal picture; the steward and treasurer were present with their staves of office and then the steward enters with the wassail bowl, calling out “wassell, wassell, wassell” and the court responds with a song. The bowl was a large wooden container holding as much as a gallon of punch made of hot-ale, sugar, spices and apples with a crust of bread at the bottom. The most important person in the household would take a drink and then pass it on. The crust of bread at the bottom of the wassail bowl was reserved for the most important person in the room, the origin of a modern day ‘toast’ when celebrating. Some believe that most wassails of the time were probably more fun and less grand. Today, communal drinking may sound alien, but it was very common in Tudor times.
Living, as we are, in the post-Victorian period, our notion of Christmas has inevitably been informed by Charles Dickens and his peers, who solidified the modern version of Christmas as a time of generous gift-giving, charity, and copious food and drink. But, as the presence of ghosts in many of Dickens’s Christmas stories indicates, the modern idea of Christmas is also a time for reflection on the past. As an Anglo-Saxonist, I naturally think back to the early medieval period, and recently asked myself, how did they celebrate Christmas? Christmas is, after all, an Anglo-Saxon word – Cristesmæsse, a word first recorded in 1038 – and so would there be any resemblance to Christmas in 2016? The surprising results of my investigation are presented below.
The precise date of Christ’s birth was decided as 25th December by Pope Julius I in the fourth century, long before the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England. The original Germanic invaders – Angles, Saxons, and Jutes – were not Christian, but were still engaged in celebrations on the 25th December. According to Bede, writing in the eighth century:
‘They began the year with December 25, the day we now celebrate as Christmas; and the very night to which we attach special sanctity they designated by the heathen mothers’ night — a name bestowed, I suspect, on account of the ceremonies they performed while watching this night through. (De temporum ratione)’.
This was the festival known as Yule, still celebrated by Neo-Pagans across the world, and remembered indirectly by those indulging in a Yule Log this Christmas. Whilst details of the festival – like almost all aspects of Anglo-Saxon paganism – are murky, we can still pick out a few details from Bede’s account of the celebration.
The festival has some association with fertility and, as Bede implies with characteristic moral reticence, possibly involved ceremonial copulation. We can see here a link between Yule and Christmas: the pagans were celebrating birth, just as Jesus’s birth from Mary, a mortal woman, is celebrated by Christians on the same day. This common aspect to Yule and Christmas is important to observe: a mandate of the early Roman church, converting the pagans of Europe, was to pursue a policy of continuity, to ease the change from one religion to another amongst the recent converts. As such, deciding on 25th December as the date of Christ’s birth was a tactical ploy by the Roman Church.
The need for evolution rather than revolution in the conversion of pagans was specifically mentioned by Pope Gregory the Great in his instructions to the missionaries he sent to convert the Anglo-Saxons in 597. Speaking of the recycling of pagan religious sites, he explained: ‘we hope that the people, seeing that their temples are not destroyed, may abandon their error and, flocking more readily to their accustomed resorts, may come to know and adore the true God’. As well as in the implicit association of Yule and Christmas, we can see this process of adoption in the many ancient churches built on the sites of pagan shrines and incorporating the Yew tree, a sacred object to the pagans.
So, with the date of Christmas decided, and old festivals rebranded (though, of course, with less sex), what did the post-597 Anglo-Saxons do at Christmas? The first thing to note is that Christmas did not have the same importance in the church calendar as it does today. Far more important to the Anglo-Saxon Church was the festival of Easter, the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Christmas gradually grew in importance from the time of Charlemagne, the great Frankish king, who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor on Christmas Day 800 at St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Nevertheless, there were established Christmas traditions by this time, which were continued through the Anglo-Saxon period. The fullest account of Anglo-Saxon Christmas is given by Egbert of York (d. 766), a contemporary of Bede: ‘the English people have been accustomed to practise fasts, vigils, prayers, and the giving of alms both to monasteries and to the common people, for the full twelve days before Christmas’.
Whilst the requirement for fasting couldn’t be further from the more secular 21st century Christmas traditions of ceaseless gluttony, we can see the rudiments of later festive customs. Firstly, the more overt religious significance of the date – ‘vigils [and] prayers’ – is in part reflected in the modern day, when many people’s sole (begrudging) visit to church occurs on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day itself. Perhaps most interesting in this early iteration of the Christmas period is Egbert’s mention of alms-giving, in which we can see the predecessor of modern Christmas presents, a tradition probably started in imitation of the Three Wise Men bringing the infant Christ Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh. Alms were charitable relief given to the poor, without expectation of payment. Although we are now more indiscriminate in our festive gift-giving, and rarely take socio-economics into the equation, this is the start of the tradition of Christmas presents. We can link, also, the traditional festive fundraising of organisations such as the Salvation Army to Egbert’s discussion of charitable acts at Christmas.
The final Saxon Christmas tradition we can reconstruct is the Christmas holiday. Alfred the Great was greatly influenced by the Frankish Court – his stepmother, Judith, was great-granddaughter of Charlemagne – and seems to have shared their view of the importance of Christmas as a festival. In one of Alfred’s laws, holiday was strictly to be taken by all but those engaged in the most important of occupations from Christmas Day to Twelfth Night. It has been suggested that Alfred’s rigorous observance of his own law left him vulnerable to his Viking adversaries, who defeated him in battle on 6th January, 878: the day after Twelfth Night. Based on what we have already discussed, we can assume this was not because of overindulgence in food and drink. Christmas Day and Boxing Day are still bank holidays today, and schoolchildren around the country enjoy a similar length of break at Christmas to Alfred’s Saxon subjects.
So, Christmas for the Anglo-Saxons was a mixed-bag. Although most were given almost a fortnight off work, they were expected to fast for the period, and only poorer members of society would be given any presents. Nevertheless, in a time when economic hardship was the norm, and most people had to work painfully long hours in the fields, the Christmas holiday would be a time for celebration, and it is no wonder people were in a charitable mood. It is easy to see how the traditions of charity, rest and gift-giving developed into the unrestrained indulgence of today. Gesælige Cristesmæsse!
Matthew Brettingham the Elder, (1699–1769), was an 18th-century Englishman who rose from humble origins to supervise the construction of Holkham Hall, and become one of the country’s best-known architects of his generation. Much of his principal work has since been demolished, particularly his work in London, where he revolutionised the design of the grand townhouse. As a result, he is often overlooked today, remembered principally for his Palladian remodelling of numerous country houses, many of them situated in the East Anglia area of Britain. As Brettingham neared the pinnacle of his career, Palladianism began to fall out of fashion and neoclassicism was introduced, championed by the young Robert Adam.
Brettingham, an architect, was born in Norwich, the son of Lancelot Brettingham (1664–1727) and his wife, Elizabeth Hillwell (d. 1729), of the parish of St Giles. Lancelot Brettingham was called a mason in the city poll-book recording the parliamentary election of 1714. Both Matthew and his elder brother Robert were apprenticed, as bricklayers, to their father and, having served their time, both brothers were made freemen of the city of Norwich on 3 May 1719.
Matthew Brettingham’s transition from builder and craftsman to architect was gradual. Pivotal to this process was his appointment in 1734, at an annual salary of £50, as clerk of works for the building of Holkham Hall on the north Norfolk coast, a large Palladian mansion based on the designs of William Kent with a major input of ideas from the patron, Thomas Coke, earl of Leicester.
Brettingham’s work at Holkham, which included the design of a number of structures in the park and was to extend over a score of years, earned him the respect and friendship of his employer and provided him with contacts which were to prove critical in the development of his career. His public work at this time, all within the bounds of Norfolk, included: the construction, in 1741, of Lenwade Bridge across the River Wensum; the rebuilding of the nave and crossing of St Margaret’s Church in King’s Lynn, damaged by the collapse of the spire in 1742; the raising of the new shire hall at Norwich Castle in 1747–9 and, over the same period, repairs to the castle itself; and repairs to Norwich Cathedral. Brettingham received a number of commissions for the design and remodelling of country houses in the 1740s which were initially confined to the county of Norfolk: the halls at Hanworth, Heydon, Honingham, and Langley were altered, while the hall at Gunton was an entirely new structure.
The outward extension of Brettingham’s country-house practice in the late 1740s coincided, more or less, with his increasing presence in London which, as his surviving account books show, from 1747 and for most of the next two decades, was the centre of his activity. His first major London commission was, appropriately, the building of Norfolk House in St James’s Square for Edward Howard, ninth duke of Norfolk. Other work followed in St James’s Square, Piccadilly, and Pall Mall. Engravings for the house in Pall Mall, raised in 1761–3 for Edward Augustus, Duke of York, appeared in volume 4 of Vitruvius Britannicus, published in 1767. Brettingham’s country-house work in these years included alterations to Goodwood, in Sussex (1750), Marble Hill, Twickenham (1750–51), Euston Hall, Suffolk (1750–56), Moor Park, Hertfordshire (1751–4), Petworth House, Sussex (1751–63), Wortley Hall, Yorkshire (1757–9), Wakefield Lodge, Northamptonshire (1759), Benacre House, Suffolk (1762–4), and Packington Hall, Warwickshire (1766–9).
Brettingham’s architecture has been described as an unexciting, if dignified, variety of Palladianism. His practice was, however, successful, and the secret of his success was his ability to adapt the grander ideas of others to the purposes of his clients, confining himself to a limited number of design themes. His corner-towered scheme for Langley was, essentially, a restatement of the same theme at Holkham; the minimal Palladianism of Norfolk House, the façade of which was no more than blank walling relieved only by door- and window-cases and a parapet, a continuation of the minimalist treatment he had observed at Hanworth and which he himself had followed earlier at Gunton. Having encountered difficulties in obtaining ashlar, the earl of Leicester settled for the facing of Holkham Hall with white brick: Brettingham was to repeat the use of white brick at Gunton and again at Norfolk House, arranging, for Norfolk House, for the bricks to be made at Holkham and brought to London.
Brettingham’s forays into Gothic and his use of round arches, as in the nave arcades of St Margaret’s, King’s Lynn, and the galleried exterior of the shire hall in Norwich, indicate the approach of an engineer rather than an antiquary and are now seen as outlandish. It was towards the end of his working life, in 1761, that Brettingham published The Plans, Elevations and Sections of Holkham in Norfolk, with his own name inscribed on the plates as ‘architect’. Critics, from Horace Walpole onwards, have assumed that Brettingham was claiming the credit for Kent’s designs but he himself may have used the inscription, legitimately from his view, to indicate his status as executive architect and draughtsman.
Matthew Brettingham died in his own house in the Norwich parish of St Augustine on 19 August 1769 and, as epitaphs in the parish church state, is buried in a vault at the east end of the north aisle, alongside his wife, Martha Bunn (c.1697–1783), whom he had married on 17 May 1721; their resting places are close to those of two of their sons, Matthew Brettingham the younger (1725–1803) and Robert Brettingham, who was probably a worsted weaver and was the father of Anthony Brettingham Freston (1757–1819). Nine children were born to him and his wife and all those for whom baptismal records have been identified were baptized in the church of St Augustine.
The above text is an extract from an article by Robin Lucas in the Oxford Dictionary of National Bibliography – see link under ‘Sources’ below.
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Stories from Medieval times have shaped our understanding of this classic Christmas figure.
There are many sides to the beloved figure of Santa Claus – a giant of pop culture, he also has “miraculous” powers and ties to the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Santa’s blend of religion and popular culture is, however, not modern at all. Several of Santa’s modern features, such as his generosity, miracle-working, and focus on morality (being “naughty or nice”), were part of his image from the very beginning. Others, like the reindeer, came later.
The original Santa, Saint Nicholas, was a fourth century Bishop of Myra (in modern Turkey) with a reputation for generosity and wonder-working. St Nicholas became an important figure in eighth century Byzantium before hitting pan-European stardom around the 11th century. He became a focus not just for religious devotion, but Medieval dramas and popular festivals – some popular enough to be suppressed during the Reformation.
The Naughty List: St Nicholas had his own version of the naughty list, including the fourth century “arch-heretic” Arius, whose views annoyed the saint so much he supposedly smacked Arius in the face in front of Emperor Constantine and assembled bishops at Nicaea.
An even more surprising listee is the Greek goddess of the hunt, Artemis. In popular Byzantine stories, Nicholas acted like a one-man wrecking crew, personally pulling down her temples, and even demolishing the great temple of Artemis at Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It’s almost a shame, as they probably would have agreed about the importance of reindeer.
The idea of St Nicholas’ conflict with Artemis probably relates to religious change in Anatolia, where the goddess was hugely popular. Historically, the temple was sacked earlier, by a band of Gothic raiders in the 260s, but hagiographers had other ideas. Perhaps these furious northmen even count as Santa’s earliest “helpers”. He was after all (as part of his extensive saintly portfolio) the patron of the Varangians, the Viking bodyguard of the Byzantine Emperors.
Fast travelling: Santa’s greatest miracle is intrinsic to modern Christmases: his ability to reach all the children on Earth in one night. NORAD, the US and Canadian air defence force, has tracked Santa’s sleigh since the 1950s, presumably trying to figure out the secret of his super speed. But really, they just need to check their ancient sources.
St Nicholas had a history of teleporting about on his own — often showing up in the nick of time when people ask for his help. As the patron saint of sailors, he often did this out at sea. In one story, sailors in a wild storm in the eastern Mediterranean cried out for the already-famous wonderworker’s help. With the mast cracking and sails coming loose, a white-bearded man suddenly appeared and helped them haul the ropes, steady the tiller, and brought them safe to shore. Rushing up the hill to the local church to give thanks, the sailors were astonished to see Nicholas was already there, in the middle of saying mass.
Suddenly appearing to save people became a favourite trick in accounts of the saint’s life and in folklore. He once saved three innocents from execution, teleporting behind the executioner and grabbing his sword, before upbraiding the judges for taking bribes.
There’s also the tale of Adeodatus, a young boy kidnapped by raiders and made the cupbearer of an eastern potentate. Soon after, St Nicholas appeared out of nowhere, grabbed the cupbearer in front of his startled master, and zipped him back home. Artists depicting this story stage the rescue differently, but the Italian artists who have St Nicholas swoop in from the sky, in full episcopal regalia, and grab the boy by the hair are worth special mention.
The flying reindeer: None of the old tales have Saint Nicholas carrying around stacks of gifts when teleporting, which brings us to the reindeer, who can pull the sleigh full of millions of presents. The popular link between Santa Claus and gifting came through the influence of stores advertising their Christmas shopping in the early 19th century. This advertising drew on the old elf’s increasing popularity, with the use of “live” Santa visits in department stores for children from the late 1800s.
Santa Claus became connected to reindeer largely through the influence of the 1823 anonymous poem, A visit from St Nicholas. In this poem, “Saint Nicholas” arrives with eight tiny reindeer pulling a sleigh full of toys. The reindeer have the miraculous ability to fly.
The origins of the animals’ flight may link back to the Saami reindeer herders of northern Scandinavia. Here, the herders were said to feed their reindeer a type of red-and-white mushroom with psychedelic properties, known as fly agaric fungi (Amanita muscaria). The mushrooms made the reindeer leap about, giving the impression of flying. The herders would then collect and consume the reindeer’s urine, with its toxins made safe by the reindeer’s metabolism. The reindeer herders could then possibly imagine the miraculous flight through the psychedelic properties of the mushroom.
The ninth reindeer, Rudolph, was created as part of a promotional campaign for the department store Montgomery Ward by Robert Lewis May in 1939. May himself was a small, frail child, who empathised with underdogs. In May’s story, Rudolph Shines Again (1954), the little reindeer is helped by an angel to save some lost baby rabbits, once again blending Santa’s religious and popular sides.
And … invisible polar bears: A number of modern depictions have connected Santa with polar bears, such as the 1994 film The Santa Clause. It seems likely the association grew as Santa’s home became accepted as the North Pole — though in one of the oldest stories, St Nicholas saves three Roman soldiers, one of whom is named Ursus (“Bear” in Latin).
Polar bears are undoubtedly useful companions for secretive Santa, and don’t even need his powers to move about unseen – the special properties of their fur mean they are hidden even from night-vision goggles.
J.R.R. Tolkien’s Letters From Father Christmas (1976), written by the Lord of the Rings’ author to his children, features the (mis)adventures of the North Polar Bear. Like St. Nick, the North Polar Bear isn’t shy about getting physical with those he perceives as wrong-doers. In one letter, the North Polar Bear saves Santa, his elves, and Christmas from a murderous group of goblins.
So, with Santa Claus once again coming your way, remember — ancient or modern – it’s better to be on the “nice” side of this teleporting saint and his motley crew of miracle-workers.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. See the following ‘Source’ link.
Emanuel Cooper was an obstetrician but first and foremost he was an eye specialist. Born in 1803 in Birkby, Huddersfield in Yorkshire and was baptised in its 11th century St Peter’s Church.
He went on to study in Yorkshire and eventually was awarded his LSA (Licentiate Society of Apothecaries, London) in 1828 before setting up a practice in Norwich by early 1830s. White’s 1836 Directory lists his occupation as Surgeon and his address at that time was Red Well [now Redwell] Street. According to Piggot’s 1839 Directory, Cooper had purchased and moved into his Tombland home, a house (long since demolished) which stood adjacent to the Erpingham Gate which leads from Tombland into the Cathedral Close. This house was described as having had columns at the front entrance.
Dr Cooper was certainly regarded in Norwich as a generous man, but also one who was quite eccentric. Ralph Hale Mottram, the son and grandson of the principal bankers at Gurney’s Bank, Norwich, described him thus:
“Dr Emanuel Cooper was, even in remote, isolated, provincial Norwich, full of unusual people, a ‘character’ only redeemed from being an ‘oddity’ by a very high professional reputation ….. Of Yorkshire extraction and mildly Quaker persuasion he had ……. the reputation of being the foremost accoucheur (obstetrician, gynaecologist) in the Norwich district…..”
In 1862, and seemingly totally in character, Dr Cooper accepted the position of Honorary Assistant to what had been named the 1st Norfolk Mounted Rifle Volunteer Corps when it was first formed during the previous year. At the time of his appointment, in September 1862, the Corp. became known as the 1st Norfolk Light Horse. Nothing more is known about Cooper’s involvement with the military, or his responsibilities as an ‘Honorary Assistant’; and we can only speculate what part he may have played, if any, during the following ‘showpiece’ which took place on Mousehold Heath in March of the following year:
Around 1865-86 Anna Julia Pearson (1838-1913), born in 1841 at Wreningham, South Norfolk, became Emanuel Cooper’s mistress; she at least twenty years younger than he. Little is known about Anna’s life and she never married Cooper. There were two children born to Anna but there is no evidence that Cooper fathered them and they were born before she moved into 36 Victoria Street, Norwich; a house that Cooper owned but never lived in himself.
The children were named Charles Arthur (1862 – April 1904), and Ada Nemesis (1864-1956) and were probably not born in Norwich at all. Later legal documents refer to both children as “strangers in blood” to Dr Cooper. Why Anna Julia Pearson came to Norwich and who fathered her two children are not known, neither is whether “Pearson” was her maiden or married name. To his credit, Cooper supported Anna and her children fairly comfortably and left her economically secure for life. The fact that she gave her daughter the middle name of “Nemesis” may indicate that she had not felt nearly so secure at the time of Ada’s birth.
It is said that Cooper formally adopted both children as his own, and in a Will dating from August 1866, when his daughter was only two years old, bequeathed her a fortune. R.H. Mottram, In his biography of John and Ada Galsworthy titled “For Some We Loved” he described Mrs Anna Pearson as ‘a very stately figure, full-bosomed and full-skirted, a fine woman … of yeoman stock’.
Then there was the letter written to Helen Flood by a relative in June 1933 (Norfolk Record Office MC 630/29 784X2) offers a few more glimpses of what was seen as ‘the Coopers’:
“When a boy, P often saw Dr Cooper walking across Tombland with his wife. May I say it without any offence, a Darby & Joan* – he with his black coat and white hair, and her with a crinoline dress. I do not remember her wearing any other. There was a personalus about them which impressed your memory and it would be well if the present-day young folks would follow their example.”
(*Darby & Joan is a proverbial phrase for a married couple living a placid, harmonious life together and are seldom seen apart.)
“A prominent obstetrician in Norwich during the 1860s and 1870s, Dr Cooper was fond of making elaborate wills. He first mentions Ada [his adopted daughter] in a will dated 24 August 1866, describing her as less than two years’ old and living with her brother, Arthur Charles, two years older than she, and her mother at 36 Victoria Street in Norwich, a house Dr Cooper owned but did not live in. Little is known about the life of Anna Julia Pearson (1838-1913), Ada’s mother. She never married Dr Cooper and there is no evidence that he fathered her children or knew her at all before 1865 or 1866…….
Of Yorkshire extraction and mildly Quaker persuasion he had, by the time of Ada’s birth, the reputation of being the foremost accoucheur in the Norwich district, in which so many remarkable names have been made in the medical world, from the times of Dr Caius and Sir Thomas Browne to the present day …. I can say only that the best known fact of his private life was that he employed his leisure in planning and seeing built a handsome, and I think stylistically correct, Mausoleum, midget in dimension, but in the classic taste, which is still the most conspicuous object in the Rosary Cemetery at Norwich today. Here, on Sunday afternoons, he used to sit, smoking a clay pipe and (possibly) reflecting on our future state …. Called to the bedsides of the titled, landed and what we nowadays feel to have been incredibly privileged classes, to preside over the entry into the world of future lords and ladies, members of Parliament and county hostesses, I fancy he began to think that he was no ordinary mortal. The proof is to be found in the long list of noble names set down to be executors of his Will, not one of whom ever acted in that capacity.”
Emanuel Cooper died, in January 1878 and his death notice stated:
“We regret having to report that the lengthened career of this successful surgeon terminated rather suddenly on Saturday evening at a few minutes to ten o’clock. He made the ‘eye’ his special study and was considered an authority on its treatment. He also took a great interest in the Norwich Blind Institution and devoted much of his time to it. He was the oldest practitioner in Norwich, and died at an advanced age. He will be buried on Tuesday at the Rosary, where under his direction, a mausoleum has been for some years erected.”
The one executor who did serve and who managed the family’s financial affairs was Ralph’s father, James Mottram. When Emanuel Cooper died, his elaborate fifteen page Will, (dated 22 April 1870) left £3,000 for “my adopted daughter Ada Nemesis Pearson Cooper”, and the same sum for “my adopted son”. He added the stipulation that no one was to be buried in his mausoleum except his adopted son, adopted daughter, “their mother Anna Julia Pearson”, and his servant, Maria Bayes (the latter two were also left considerable sums).
As for Dr Cooper’s mausoleum – it is the only such structure in the Rosary Cemetery in Norwich. The only remains it contains are those of Dr Cooper; a vault situated below the mausoleum does contain the remains of Anna Julia Pearson Cooper, Cooper’s wife, who died in 1913 in Newport, Essex, and of Charles Arthur Pearson Cooper, their son, who died in April 1904 in Kensington, London. The railings surrounding the mausoleum (and perhaps also the ironwork) were made by J Barnes whose foundry was based at Church Street, St Miles, Norwich.
Footnote: Ada Nemesis Pearson Cooper (adopted daughter of Dr Emanual Cooper of Norwich) married the writer John Galsworthy; he based his novel, ‘Jolyon’ on their relationship. His more famous novel was ‘The Forsyth Saga’ – a story about the vicissitudes of the leading members of a large commercial upper middle class English family – similar to his own – is believed by his biographers and people who knew him to have been based on his own life.
The firm of John Barnes was listed in the 1865 Kelly’s Post Office Directory as “iron and brass founder, Church Street, St Miles” but the foundry was to be known variously as Barnes Ironworks, Barnes and Pye as a partnership (between Jacob Pye [a son?] and John Youngs – dissolved on the latter’s death in 1929) and as a company (Barnes and Pye Ltd from 1962 until dissolved in 2006) and also as the St. Miles Foundary. Their products included joists, beams, columns, manhole covers, standpipes (examples still in Maddermarket and Dereham Road), sturdy fittings for the gates of churchyards and the like – and they supplied the ironwork for Edward Boardman’s new Royal Hotel in Prince of Wales Road, built by John Youngs & Son and completed in late 1897.
NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site seeking only to be informative and educational on topics broadly related to the history and heritage of the County of Norfolk in the U.K. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where possible, to obtain permission to use an owner’s material. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with an owner), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.
On the 25 April, 2001, the following article by Tom Utley, appeared in The Telegraph. Its title: “The mountains of Norfolk and other Hollywood myths”. In it he cited our County of Norfolk, England, UK – not Norfolk, Virginia in the States by the way. For that reason readers of this Blog, who might have missed the article the first time round, might like to read it for themselves. They may, or may not, agree with his views which were written some eighteen years ago. Apologies for a few minor tweaks to the article, and for leaving out the advertising and other extraneous matter which only detracts from an interesting article. Read on:
Most of us will have felt a pang of sympathy for Claudia Neira. She was the American who arrived in Guangzhou, China, after an exhausting flight from New York, only to find that the White Swan hotel had no record of the booking that she had made over the internet. Further inquiries revealed that she had actually booked her eight nights at the White Swan hotel in Pickering, on the other side of the world, in North Yorkshire. The charitable among us will say that this was an easy mistake to make. The two hotels share a name, after all, and there is no telling where a website hails from on the internet.
But we should not be too quick to acquit Mrs Neira of stupidity. For there are a number of clues on the two websites to suggest the whereabouts of the hotels they advertise. There are photographs, for a start. The Chinese White Swan is shown as a 34-storey skyscraper towering over banyan gardens at the water’s edge on Shamian Island. The photograph of the Pickering White Swan shows a two-storey, 16th-century coaching inn, unmistakably English in appearance. The Chinese hotel boasts on its website of its specialised regional cuisine from Beijing, Sichuan and Shanghai. The Yorkshire hotel is proud to announce that its chef makes his own sausages and bread. The address at the top of the English website is a bit of a giveaway, too: “Pickering, Ryedale, North Yorkshire, YO18 7AA” – Perhaps it was the “YO” that threw Mrs Neira: it does look vaguely Chinese!!
I blame the American film and television industry for Mrs Neira’s unhappy plight. For instance, the Disney corporation did set its £50 million thriller, ‘Reign of Fire’, in the mountains of Norfolk, England! Now, the one thing that most of us know about Norfolk, was summed up succinctly by Noel Coward in Private Lives: “Very flat, Norfolk”. Disney’s location scouts must have discovered as much, when they came to have a look at the County. But rather than admit that they got it wrong, they took their cameras off to the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland, and went on pretending that the action of their film was set in East Anglia – and Norfolk in particular!
No wonder Mrs Neira was confused when she clicked on the Pickering White Swan’s website, thinking that she was booking a room in China. I suspect that, in the course of her childhood, she must have seen a Disney film set beneath the banyan trees by the banks of the Pearl River in North Yorkshire, in which an American hero defeated Attila the Hun’s air force. Or perhaps she saw a film set among the flat-capped, bangers – and – mash – scoffing pigeon-fanciers of Guangzhou, in which another American hero beat off an invasion from outer space. How is a poor New York girl to tell the difference between Europe and Asia, Pickering and Guangzhou, when she has been fed all her life on a diet of inane fantasy?
Some will say that all this is just a lot of fuss about nothing, and that it does not really matter; so what if Disney chooses to pretend that there are mountains in Norfolk? It is just a bit of escapism, they will say – poetic licence, and all that. Nor would it matter very much, if this were an exceptional case. But the fact is that nearly every single film churned out by Hollywood is based on some kind of lie. The world’s greatest democracy, and its only remaining superpower, has shut its eyes and blocked its ears to any consideration of the truth, retreating into a fantasy world of its own.
I am not thinking only of geography and topography. Hollywood takes the most breathtaking liberties with history, too. Braveheart, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, Patriot, U 571, Michael Collins, Thirteen Days – just show any American film made over the past 20 [now 38] years that claims to have some basis in historical fact, and I will show you a pack of lies from beginning to end. Yet for most of the people who watch them – people with votes to cast for heaven’s sake! – these films are the only exposition of history that they will ever see.
The past troubles in Northern Ireland? A case of British imperialists oppressing a subject people. Simple as that. Cracking the Enigma code? All down to the heroism of the Yanks, wasn’t it? The Irish potato famine? An act of genocide by Queen Victoria. The Cuban missile crisis? A triumph of statesmanship for J F K.
How we all sneer at those Soviet propaganda films of the 1930s, showing happy peasants bringing in their abundant harvests in accordance with their glorious leader’s latest five-year plan. But Stalin’s film-makers have nothing to teach modern Hollywood about perverting or ignoring the facts to suit their masters’ ends. Hollywood cannot even tell the truth about what Americans call “interpersonal relationships”. If you believed the movies, you would think that every child who had ever breathed was a little ball of sugar-coated candy – capable of naughtiness, certainly, but just as cute as pie underneath. Even the villainess of ‘The Exorcist’ turned out to be a sweetie in the end.
They have shown Mrs Doubtfire repeatedly on television – as disgusting a piece of trash as anything produced by the porno industry in Los Angeles, made all the more revolting by Robin Williams’s brilliant, schmaltzy performance in the title role. The final scene showed our hero’s ex-wife and children wiping away tears of admiration as they watched him on television, dressed as an elderly woman, delivering a little homily about how kiddies shouldn’t feel bad when their parents divorced. Yeurrgh!! Life just isn’t like that. Never has been, never will be.
In his final refusal to accept reality, Walt Disney left instructions that his dead body should be frozen until medical science came up with a way of bringing him back to life. The time has surely come to thaw the old swine out, and put him on trial at the Hague for crimes against Western civilisation and the truth!
NOTICE: ‘Norfolk Tales, Myths & More!’ is a ‘non-commercial’ Site which publishes only informative and/or educational items in the hope of broadening an appreciation of the history and heritage of the wonderful County of Norfolk. In pursuing this aim, we endeavour, where necessary, to obtain permission to use another owner’s material, as well as our own. However, for various reasons, (i.e. identification of, and means of communicating with such owners), contact can sometimes be difficult or impossible to established. NTM&M never attempts to claim ownership of such material; ensuring at all times that any known and appropriate ‘credits’ and ‘links’ back to our sources are always given in our articles. No violation of any copyright or trademark material is intentional.